Retail sales slip in June
The U.S. Census Bureau announced that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for June, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $401.5 billion, down 0.5% from the previous month, but 3.8% above June 2011.
Total sales for the April through June 2012 period were up 4.7% from the same period a year ago.
Retail trade sales were down 0.5% from May 2012, but 3.5% above last year, and nonstore retailers sales were up 10.9% from June 2011.
Sales for the building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, a group that includes home centers and hardware stores, were $27.281 billion in June on an adjusted basis, down 11% from May.
“High unemployment, persistent global economic headwinds and heightened uncertainty continue to undermine consumer confidence,” said Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).
“While leading retailers have successfully risen above these circumstances and continue to remain strong, the ongoing challenges remain great. Washington can help by enacting policies that will give clarity and certainty to businesses, freeing them up to invest and grow,” Kennedy added.
Lowe’s speaks out on Internet sales tax
The battle over online purchasing and sales tax might be winding to a close as more Republican governors are dropping their opposition to a mandatory state tax on Internet sales. The turning point may have been in May, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cut a deal with Amazon.com: Residents of New Jersey would pay a 7% sales tax on Amazon.com purchases, and the nation’s largest e-tailer would build two distribution centers in the state.
“Having one of the most recognized and widely popular Republican leaders take this position gives other politicians comfort that the online sales tax is fair and helps state budgets in crisis,” said Scott Mason, VP government affairs at Lowe’s, in a Wall Street Journal analysis of the issue. The North Carolina-based home improvement chain has a 5% to 10% price disadvantage compared with online retailers, and some customers are using Lowe’s stores as “Internet showrooms” — places to look at a product before they buy it online, according to the article.
Robert Niblock, chairman, CEO and president of Lowe’s, sits on the board and serves as secretary of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), a vocal supporter of what it calls “equal treatment of the collection of sales taxes.”
Virginia, Texas, and Nevada, which all have Republican governors, have followed New Jersey’s examples and made similar agreements with Amazon, the newspaper reported.
Six states already collect sales tax from Amazon on purchases; another seven states have plans in place to do the same.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill that would give states authority to mandate online sales tax collection is making its way through Congress.
Employees often refrain from disclosing disabilities
Employees with nonvisible disabilities often wonder whether to disclose their condition when applying for a job or working for an organization, because they fear negative repercussions will arise if they do so.
Yet people with disabilities are the largest and fastest growing minority group in the world, representing more than 750 million individuals, according to a recent webinar. In the United States, there are more than 54 million people with disabilities. However, people with disabilities are employed at less than half the rate of their nondisabled counterparts.
A number of factors, including people with disabilities’ own fears about applying for jobs, workplaces that are unsupportive or unaccommodating for people with disabilities and workplace harassment and bullying, are preventing many of these people from finding employment.
In a webinar titled “Strategies for Increasing Self-Identification for Candidates and Employees with Disabilities,” experts discussed various ways to create work environments that allow applicants and employees to disclose their disabilities.
The webinar, conducted by the Employer Assistance and Research Network (EARN), included two speakers who provided insights into ways organizations can accurately represent their workforce composition and consider various methods for accommodating employees with disabilities.
The first, Martha Artiles, served as the global chief diversity officer at ManpowerGroup. She focused on various strategies organizations can use to create a climate in which people are willing to disclose more about themselves. “Employees need to be truly engaged at all levels of the organization and truly believe in what they are doing and what the company is doing,” she said.
According to a study conducted by Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), released in December 2011, potential employees are more inclined to express interest in organizations with an inclusive workplace culture.
Artiles explained that an inclusive culture should:
• Engage employees at all levels.
• Employ leaders who set a clear purpose, values and accepted behaviors.
• Eliminate employees who do not demonstrate the desired behaviors.
• Revisit core values periodically to make sure they are still relevant.
• Educate employees and hold them accountable at all levels.
Organizations that achieve these outcomes are likely to become known as best places to work among prospective employees, Artiles said. In addition, such practices can increase retention and loyalty of employees and customers.
Deciding whether to disclose the disability
Of the 598 respondents with disabilities surveyed by Cornell and AAPD, 68% said the “need for accommodation” is a very important factor when deciding whether to disclose a disability to an employer. Other popular responses included a “supportive supervisor relationship” (64%) and a “disability-friendly workplace” (57%).
These results further Artiles’ view that an accommodating workplace environment is essential for employees to be willing to disclose their disabilities. But this is not only important for employees, the study found. It is crucial for employers to be aware of ways in which accommodations can improve employee productivity and improve the reputation and sustainability of their business.
According to the webinar, organizations should create environments that encourage disclosure by:
• Targeting people with disabilities for employment.
• Conducting disability awareness training for staff.
• Enacting flexible workplace policies.
• Having fair systems to address complaints.
• Creating accessible workplaces.
• Fostering supportive supervisor-staff relationships.
• Including disability in the diversity statement.
In addition, Cornell/AAPD survey respondents listed very important factors when deciding not to disclose a disability to an employer. “Risk of being hired/not fired” was the most common response with 73%, followed by “employer may focus on disability” (62%), the “risk of losing health care” (62%), and “fear of limited opportunities” (61%).
What employers need to do
The second webinar speaker, Alicia Wallace, equal employment opportunity program consultant and disability outreach manager for WellPoint Inc., agreed with many of the suggestions noted by Artiles. She said employers should focus on:
• Recruiting and hiring people with disabilities.
• Working with internal employee networking groups which support disability initiatives.
• Mentoring opportunities.
• Portraying people with disabilities in a positive light.
• Offering workplace flexibility.
• Looking into the process for accommodations.
• Educating associates about disabilities.
• Sponsorships with disability-focused organizations.
Wallace suggested that employers avoid treating employees with disabilities differently than other employees, specifically with regard to interpersonal interactions, opportunities for advancement, hiring, termination and performance reviews.
People want to feel like they are joining an organization because of their skills and abilities, she said, which is why employers should integrate diversity into their workplace culture seamlessly, rather than making it an obvious issue.
Eytan Hirsch is a staff writer for SHRM.
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